Mark's Review of The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption(1994)
I don't even remember why we went to see this film in the theaters the first time, except perhaps we liked the stars in it, and it looked like it might be an intelligent film. It wasn't what we expected, but it's an incredible film: intelligent and somewhat old-fashioned. It's a film that we have watched over again several times, and are still amazed at how well done it is. It's well-directed, well-written, well cast, artfully shot (who thought a prison could be interesting as a backdrop!!!); and it has all kinds of metaphors and subtext to engage you beyond the wonderful character studies in the story. (A Steven King short story!)
It's a diverse array of situations that are skillfully blended: From the brutal life behind bars, to the changes that each character goes through during the time line of many years. You are carried along through all of it, and it all makes perfect sense, and seems genuine, even if its a period film. Taken purely as a film about prisoners, it can be difficult to sit through if you're after action. There's lots grittier films and shows about prison life old and new that will do that. It's when you put aside that viewpoint and the need for violence without explanation, and start looking at the larger issues, that's when the movie starts to really shine. You might even feel a kinship, in some ways, with these people's own 'personal prisons'. How do we escape ourselves? What is our humanity when we have none except a system to follow?
It's one of the few films I can think of where a narration (now almost a cliche to hear Morgan Freeman narrate anything) really worked. The narration deepens and enlarges the viewers understanding, and that's a tribute to the thoughtful script that goes along with it.
The performances speak for themselves. Everyone, from lead actors and key characters, to the prison guards and other prisoners, plays their role to perfection. Frank Darabont gives us just enough exposition, and supplements theater with great use of the camera, and vignettes that tell the story. There's not a wasted frame in this film.
Great musical score, too, and a great ending.
It's an experience as much as a movie. It takes you to your own private Zihuantanejo, and if you don't know what that means, you will by the end.